How To Shop Your Local Farmers Market

Last Saturday morning I visited the Downers Grove Farmers Market.  I wish I could compare it to other markets I’ve been to, but I blush to admit that I had actually never gone shopping at a local farmers market before—I, who have a username like “greenmom,” had never been to a farmers market.  Sort of embarrassing.  So I figured I’d better head out there to one.

 (Not by way of excuse but explanation—my problem isn’t the going, it’s the timing; I never seem to remember on Thursday morning that it’s actually Thursday morning, know what I mean? I’ll go, “Oh right, I wanted to hit the Burr Ridge farmers market Thursday of this week, what day is it? Oh crud, it’s Friday already, now I have to wait till next week…”  I have the same problem remembering to take the garbage out to the curb for pickup, which is why I’m glad my husband takes care of that aspect of home life.)

It was a good thing, this farmer’s market. I was surprised at how much non-fruit-or-veggie stuff was there for sale—seemed like everything from gourmet dog biscuits to made on the spot fresh donuts to breads and cheeses to locally made soaps and cosmetics were there.  We got a bag of mini-donuts that were literally moments out of the hot oil. (Yeah, oil. I know. What can I say, I cracked. And they were delicious.)

Some things I learned:

  1. Shop around.  If the first produce-selling stall has green peppers and lettuce and sweet cherries, odds are good that the next 4 will have variations on the same fruits and vegetables.
  2. Not everything is necessarily grown locally.  If a farm is selling beautiful huge rosy beefsteak tomatoes when you know perfectly well the ones on your bush at home are still little green globes about 2cm in diameter, ask where they grew their tomatoes.  (On the other hand, going to the farmers market and buying tomatoes grown in Arkansas is a good bit less carbon-footprint-y than going to the grocery store and buying tomatoes grown in Chile, know what I mean?) I found some that were grown in southern Illinois, no doubt hothouse, but very reasonable and very good.
  3. Go with a budget.  Better still, go with exactly as much cash as you are willing to spend that day.  And have some idea of what you want to get before leaving the house—don’t be inflexible, but also don’t go thinking “wow, I’ll just buy what looks good!” It all looks good.
  4. The next time you go, start off to the left first, since last time you ran out of your budgeted cash well before you got to the last third of the stalls.
  5. Free samples.
  6. Bring your own produce bags, or be prepared to schlep home a whole bunch of those annoying plastic grocery bags.  Unfortunately, your string bags won’t help you here, because produce is a little messier than stuff you get at the store. (My experience with making produce bags is in a subsequent post.)  Do a Google search for “reusable produce bag” and you’ll get places like www.reusablebags.com, www.ecobags.com, www.3bbags.com, and many more. Bear in mind—for farmers market shopping almost any mesh or muslin type bag will be fine.  If you want something to use in a grocery store, it needs to be fairly transparent so that the scanners can read it. This topic will get its own post eventually…

To find your own local market, if you don’t know already where they are, check the web– www.localharvest.org has a pretty good search engine, as do http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/ and  www.farmersmarketonline.com –for that last one, you need to scroll down to find all the markets; the list that comes up first has only featured ones, I think; it also appears to have more info and be more up to date than the localharvest.org site.  What’s kind of cool is that since the days rotate around with a different market in a different place every day of the week, if we suburbanites are lucky we may be able to go any day we want and even hit a lot of the same vendors who cycle around the different markets all week.

Happy munching! (The donuts were worth every fat-laden calorie, too…)

–J

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Posted on July 20, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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